June 21 in Russian history

1897: Birthday of Alexander Ignatyevich Shargey. He was born in Poltava (modern Ukraine). In this year in a St.Petersburg prison a young student Maria Vetrova, arrested as a participant of a revolutionary group, burnt herself in a suicidal act of protest. The parents of Alexander participated in the students' revolts in Kiev caused by Vetrova's death. Alexander's father, Ignaty, left the university, and his mother, Lyudmila, was arrested. While in prison, she was diagnosed as having a mental disease. Ignaty left the family and went for study to Germany, but soon returned to St.Petersburg. In 1910, he died. Alexander was raised by his grandmother and grandfather. Being a smart boy, he was deeply interested in science fiction stories, engineering, science. He had even attempted to develop a spaceship. In 1916, Alexander graduated from a gymnasium with a silver medal and entered a Polytechnical institute in St.Petersburg. Two months later he was drafted to the army and became an ensign. In 1917 he was sent to Caucasus, but when the Southern front fell apart in 1918, he and his friend decided to go home. On the road, they were recruited to the Volunteer Army (the White Guard). They fled from the army and stayed in Poltava. Because of the social turmoil, he preferred to stay at home and enjoyed reading. In those days he found an article in a magazine talking about Tsiolkovsky's achievements. Then he moved to Kiev to his step-mother, Elena Kareyeva. He began working. In free hours he wrote a brochure titled "To those who will read in order to build" (published in 1919). The brochure discussed the general theory of jet rockets, optimal trajectories of flights to various planets, space navigation, usage of mirrors to concentrate the solar energy, intermediate space bases, planets gravitation as a way to change the flight direction and so on.

In 1919, the White Guard troops entered Kiev and Shargey was drafted again. On the road, he escapes again. His step-mother finds the documents of someone Yuri Kondratyuk, who died in 1921. This was necessary to save him from Cheka, who persecuted the officers of the tsarist army.

In 1925 he at lasts manages to find books by Tsiolkovsky and he is deeply disappointed when he learns that most of his own work had been done before. Nevertheless, he publishes his second book, "Conquering the interplanetary space" where he further develops his ideas from the first book and it receives praises from V.Vetchinkin, outstanding scientist of those times. In the books he also proposed to use giant guns for acceleration of cargo ships sent to the orbital station. He also developed a gliding landing module. His life goes on and he becomes a constructor of grain elevators. So, he builds a unique grain elevator "Mastodon" in Novosibirsk, without a single metal joint, since iron was in very short supply in Siberia then. This absence of metal parts became a ground for accusation in sabotage in 1930. The local authorities decided that the elevator will fall apart when 10,000 tons of grain will be put there. The "Mastodon" elevator worked for 50 more years, but Shargey-Kondratyuk was arrested and sentenced for three years in Gulag camps. Instead of the camp, he was sent to a specialized construction bureau, so called sharashka (a research lab staffed with gifted Gulag inmates). In this laboratory Shargey designed powerful and effective wind power stations, which were built later in Crimea. In 1937 the Crimean wind power project was closed and he begins to design hydrogen power stations. In 1941, when the war began, he volunteers to join the Soviet army. He was missed in action in October 1941. It was found out later that he survived and joined another regiment, where he fought till February 1942, when he was killed. His body was not found and a part of his notebook was found later in the archives of Wernher von Braun. This fact gave birth to a legend that he was captured by Germans and sent to Peenemünde and after the war was secretly transported to the USA. Others say that he was von Braun himself. Unfortunately, this is not so.

When the space age began, it suddenly turned out that a lot of Shargey-Kondratyuk's ideas were extremely useful. Dr. John Houbolt of NASA, who developed the Lunar Excursion Module, repeated the discoveries of Kondratyuk, who proposed the idea of a separate landing module and developed the optimal landing trajectory for the Moon. Houbolt said later that when he was watching the launch of Apollo-9, he thought about Kondratyuk. Neil Armstrong visited Novosibirsk and gathered a handful of the soil near the house of Kondratyuk, saying that this soil means just as much as the Moon probes for him.

In 1970, Kondratyuk was rehabilitated. In 1977, the court ruled that he committed no crime when he had changed his name.

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